Darkness is a natural resource and it is almost gone

light pollution bortle scale stars
© Stellarium

Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley interviewed Paul Bogard about his new book, The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light.

Bogard writes about "darkness as natural resource" and why we need to preserve it before we lose it completely:

For me, one of the reasons why identifying different depths of darkness is so important is that we don’t recognize that we’re losing it, unless we have a name to recognize it by. It’s also a way to talk about what we might regain.

That’s also what the National Parks Service Night Sky team, who I describe in the book, is trying to do with their sky quality index. If you’re charged with preserving darkness as natural resource, unimpaired for future generations, then you need to be able to put a number on the level of darkness. You need to be able to see and measure any losses before you even know what you’re trying to protect.

Bogard notes how light pollution isn't doing us much good and may actually make us less safe:

The other thing is that, physically, so much light makes it hard for our eyes to see. We don't adapt from bright to dark quickly, so if we look toward the light, we can't see anything else, and then most street lighting is incredibly badly designed and actually reduces contrast.

Sure, some lighting is helpful, in terms of safety and security. But we are not safe or secure simply because of lights. We are safe and secure when we are conscious of our surroundings. Most of our security lights are a huge waste of money and energy.

It's a difficult issue. The entire third chapter is all about safety and security. I spent a lot of time on it, because the minute you start talking about light pollution, or the importance of darkness, people's first response is, "Yeah, but we need light for safety and security." It touches a nerve. I would just say that we don't need all this light for safety and security. We use way more than we need, and it isn't making anybody any safer.

When I was in Mongolia in June, I spent a week in the Gobi Desert and I was stunned by the stars. Despite growing up in Kansas and Arkansas, where light pollution is less of a problem than east of the Mississippi, I had never seen a sky so spectacular. Staring into a vast sky of stars can be one of the most moving and thought-provoking things you can do. It is a shame so few people will have a chance to see such a sky, but hopefully Bogard's research and the National Parks Service's Night Sky project can help us grow the darkness.

Read the rest at Venue.

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